Prairie dogs native to both North and Central America are small stout-bodied burrowing rodents with shallow cheek pouches. An average size is 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) long.
In the United States prairie dogs are primarily found west of the Mississippi River, but they have been introduced into a few eastern locales. All are herbivores, and in settled regions they sometimes damage crops severely. They have been eliminated from certain areas of the Great Plains where ranchers regard them as pests. The mass culling of prairie dogs has lead to the near extinction of the black-footed ferret, which eats the prairie dog.
The White-tailed Prairie Dog was described by Ludvig/Louis, and was named after the 1805 Lewis and Clark Expedition where prairie dogs were first identified for scientific study.
In 2003 they came to public attention in the U.S. because pet prairie dogs spread monkeypox, a mild variant of smallpox previously unknown in North America, to more than a dozen people. The prairie dogs apparently contracted the disease from a Gambian pouched rat in a Chicago-area pet store.